Family is forced to flee home

By Gráinne Brinkley

A LAGMORE family who fled their home of 17 years to escape anti-social behaviour say they’ve been left “high and dry” by the police and by the Housing Executive.

The Blake family have left their Altan Gardens home to restart their lives in Scotland after what that say were three years of threatening and intimidating behaviour directed against them and their neighbours, including verbal and physical abuse, intimidation, the death of a family pet and the delivery of a funeral wreath to their home.

Anti-social

The family at the centre of the alleged anti-social behaviour have been told that they are being ejected from their Housing Executive home. However, the Blake family feel this decision has come too late for them and they are now applying to the Housing Executive to buy their abandoned family home under the emergency Scheme for the Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED).

Speaking to the Andersonstown News from Scotland, Michelle Blake said the problems began three years ago when 12 residents in the Altan area decided to petition the Housing Executive for the removal of the problem neighbours.

“Every week they were  smashing bottles, drinking,” said the mother of four. “When we started to complain they started bringing their friends up to abuse me and my family. I was getting bottles thrown at the back of the house. On St Patrick’s Day 2011 my husband Drew was attacked by their friends. Other neighbours were going through the same thing and one was told he would get his knees blown off.”

As the legal proceedings against the problem family progressed, the anti-social behaviour continued.

“They told my kids that they would kill our family dog,” said Michelle.

“Not too long after, the dog was found lying out the back of the house and it later died.  After that they walked after my kids in the street shouting ‘woof woof’. Two weeks ago my 15-year-old answered the door to take delivery of a funeral wreath for my husband. She was in the house on her own at the time and was in hysterics.”

Out of the original 12 families to complain to the Housing Executive, it’s claimed, only the Blakes and two other neighbours saw the legal action through until a recent court ruling.

“The other families dropped out because they didn’t want to be targeted any more,” said Michelle.

“The Housing Executive have done nothing to help and neither have Sinn Féin or the PSNI. We went through the right channels to complain about these neighbours and it backfired on us.  We were left high and dry.”

West Belfast SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said it was a “tragic situation”.

“The sad fact is that in 2012 a family has had to leave their home and their life in West Belfast because of anti-social behaviour,” he said.

Investigated

“It’s an example of how slowly statutory bodies move when it comes to tackling this problem head-on. They need to look long and hard at how they operate so no other families feel forced to leave.”

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said it treats the issue of anti-social behaviour “with the utmost seriousness and every reported incident is thoroughly investigated”.

“Over the past two years our staff have worked tirelessly with local residents and their representatives to address this issue and we continue to offer advice and assistance to affected households,” said the spokesperson.

“Since an initial report of an incident in October 2010 we issued diaries to affected residents to record incidents as they occurred.”

A spokesperson for Sinn Féin said the party was “actively involved” in helping the residents of Altan Gardens over the past two years.

“In recent weeks three families felt they had to leave the street because they were experiencing consistent abuse by those involved in anti-social behaviour,” said a party spokesperson.

“Sinn Féin has been working with the Executive to have these families re-housed and the party is determined to restore peace to this street with the help of both the statutory and community-based organis- ations.”

A PSNI spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have received numerous reports of anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and assaults from a number of residents in the Altan gardens area. There are a number of ongoing investigations into several of these reports therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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